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“'Melodrama' in England is a dirty word”

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William Oldroyd • Director


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2016: British filmmaker William Oldroyd has presented Lady Macbeth, a tale of a woman who will not accept what a corseted destiny has in store for her, in competition

William Oldroyd  • Director
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

A great surprise on the British film-industry landscape, Lady Macbeth [+see also:
film review
interview: William Oldroyd
film profile
, the first feature by British theatre director and now filmmaker William Oldroyd, has stomped into the Golden Shell competition at the 64th San Sebastián International Film Festival. We interviewed the director to find out more about the film.

Cineuropa: How did you approach the challenge of depicting such a special character as Katherine?
William Oldroyd:
When Alice Birch wrote it, we knew it would attract a good actress. Who wouldn’t want to play this role? Even if it were a man’s role, or a woman’s role, the character is great. We were lucky to find somebody to play it so well. When we met Florence Pugh, we knew immediately that she was the right person; it was a very quick decision, and we didn’t hesitate at all. But we had been looking for the actress for quite a while at that moment. We actually met actresses from all over Europe.

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The source material is very interesting. Can you tell us more about how it developed into the film?
The writer (Birch) brought the book (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov) to me and said, “This would be a great film.” And we were quite surprised that there weren’t more films about it. We knew there was an opera which had certain elements of melodrama, which we didn’t really want to keep in the film – because “melodrama” in England is a dirty word. Bad melodrama, of course – good melodrama is great, but we have this funny relationship with the concept. So once we talked about the synopsis and wrote the treatment, we knew perfectly what we wanted to work on together, and the script slowly found its shape. Let’s also say that the book is a good story, but that’s it – it’s quite simple in terms of the plot elements, even though more or less what is there in the final result of the film is what was there in the book, only with a few changes, such as the ending. What Alice has done brilliantly is to create real characters out of it, developing all of their psychology.

What was your transition from theatre directing to film directing like?
First of all, I wanted to understand how it had to be done, why it doesn’t work the same way in theatre directing as it does in film directing. Having a camera there changes it all. I talked to a lot of filmmakers and I watched a lot of films in order to realise this. So in order for stuff to be shown, the way you put the camera is very important. At first, I just put the camera where the audience would be in the theatre. When we are watching a play, we are just self-editing it; we choose where to look. But in a film, this is the director’s role. So I was familiar with giving that possibility of choosing to the audiences, but in film you expect the director to tell you: “You have to look here.” I actually worked with cameras during college, so this was a kind of comeback to that. I had done some experimental work with image and multimedia work. I was also working in collaboration with the editor (Nick Emerson), with the art director (Jacqueline Abrahams) and with our cinematographer (Ari Wegner)… It was a difficult transition at first, but I’m very happy with the results. And I also think it’s very important to work with the right collaborators. We did a lot of prep for it.

How was it for you to get your film financed within the UK industry?
The money was in place in iFeatures, the regional low-budget filmmaking scheme run by Creative England, and supported by the BFI and BBC Films, and we just had to apply for it. At the phase of the second draft of the script, we were chosen as one of the three films from among the 300 submitted. The whole process took a year, and it was meritocratic – they said they chose the best project, and we have to believe that.

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